The filmmakers behind a Birmingham-based movie have waded into a debate about whether a £23 million plan to revolutionise cycling in Birmingham is discriminatory.
Comments by Tory city councillor Deirdre Alden in which she described cycling as being for ‘white, young men’ have sparked a huge debate online and in the Post’s letters pages.
Coun Alden questioned spending so much money on an activity which seemingly benefited one part of the community, excluding groups including the elderly and some religions. But the councillor’s comments sparked a storm, of protest as Birmingham presses on with plans to transform cycling infrastructure.
Michael B Clifford and Pip Piper’s feature-length documentary Bicycle, which has just enjoyed a five-night run at the Mac in Cannon Hill Park, had its world premiere at the start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire this summer and is set to be screened in the Houses of Parliament next month.
Mr Piper said what while Coun Alden’s comments had angered some, they had ignited a healthy discussion on the subject.
“It opened up the debate,” he said. “£23 million is going to be spent on cycling in the city over the next two years after Birmingham Cycle Revolution won a big bid.
“A lot is going to be happening and this fed into the debate, which is positive.”
The Department for Transport is giving Birmingham £17 million to help create a network of safe new cycle routes, with the city council putting £6.3 million into the project.
It will see an upgrade to some of the city’s busiest routes, including Hagley Road and Bristol Road, with dedicated cycle lanes and safety improvements at junctions to encourage more cyclists.
The 90-minute film, directed by BAFTA-winning Kings Heath director and keen cyclist Mr Clifford and produced by Mr Piper from Digbeth-based Blue Hippo Media, explores the history of the bicycle but also looks at how the British have resumed their love affair with it, particularly as a form of transport.
It takes a light-hearted approach to telling the story of cycling in the land that invented the bicycle, its birth, decline and re-birth from Victorian origins to today, coming to the conclusion the humble bicycle is more popular than ever in Britain.
Much of the filming was done in Birmingham and the documentary also follows the fortunes of rising Solihull cycling star Danielle Khan.
It also looks back to a golden age of cycling when the West Midlands boasted hundreds of bicycle manufacturers and was arguably the epicentre of the cycling world.
Although the film takes a light-hearted approach, it is also underpinned by a serious message calling for more investment in creating safe cycle routes across the UK.
The Parliamentary screening of Bicycle has been arranged by Chris Boardman, and the film stresses how the UK lags behind cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen where cycling is better integrated into the transport infrastructure.
Mr Piper said road development in the 1960s which favoured the car over the bicycle was part of the problem.
“We have to unravel that,” he said.
“It seems like it is a god-given right for people to have motor vehicles. What we need is to see more cyclists, the statistics have to go up, then the political will to do something goes up. It is how you get to that critical mass.”
He added that it was critical Britain built on heightened interest in cycling as a past-time and a sport.
“It is cool right now to be a cyclist,” he said. “Chris Boardman thinks we have got a year, a window of opportunity to get things done in the wake of the Olympics, the Tour de France and Bradley Wiggins’ success.
“The public perception of cycling is seen as something that should be embraced and celebrated.
“But people are fickle and if the stars don’t keep winning and we don’t see it on television screens that could change.
“There’s a lot of talk and we have to take what we have at the moment and make the most of it.
“I think we agree the bicycle is a wonderful invention and it seems crazy we are not doing more to promote it as a mode of transport.”
In the film Mr Clifford describes how Birmingham’s plan to spend more than £20 million showed it was “starting to think Dutch”.
Bicycle is set to be screened in cinemas across the UK.